What Went Wrong With Apple TV?

By Michael Vogel, Technology enthusiast since 1989. Originally published on Quora.

The problem with the Apple TV lies mostly in lost opportunities.

Apple got on the streaming devices for TVs long before they were popular (and Apple is in a rare position here. Apple usually comes into a market late and popularizes it when in this case Apple was the first mover but Google, following them in a product category, actually popularized streaming devices). The history of the Apple TV is full of missed opportunities on Apple’s part, some of which are starkly easy to see.

  • Apple releases the original Apple TV as a “hobby”. It was a device before its time and a device that’s use case didn’t justify the price. Primarily sold as a way to view your personal media on a TV, it simply didn’t have a market. Streaming services didn’t even exist yet. It was a niche product that Apple openly called a “hobby”.
  • Apple TV 2nd and 3rd generations were a step up and came out at a time when streaming was just starting to hit the mainstream. Fitted with a modified version of iOS, this was the first major missed opportunity for Apple, when it locked the Apple TV with standard apps that couldn’t be changed, a stance they would stick to until 2015. While they released Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services out to it, covering probably 80% of the people’s streaming needs, and with AirPlay as a groundbreaking feature in terms of actually giving it a solid use case, unless you were married to the Apple ecosystem, it just didn’t make a lot of sense to get one and it gave very little even to those users. I personally never owned one. This got worse as Roku, Google, Amazon, and more created devices that far exceeded the Apple TV. As an “Apple Guy”, people were always surprised when I recommended other devices instead of the Apple TV.
  • Apple finally seemed to get on board what they needed to do with the 4th generation Apple TV. Finally a fully featured version of iOS with third party streaming apps like Plex, an App Store, and support for games. Apple seemed to be attempting to leapfrog the competition by positioning it as a low powered gaming console, just when Microsoft and Sony were touting their consoles as media players. By tapping into the popularity of the iOS App Store and the power of their custom CPUs, the Apple TV was poised to sweep the competition and it was priced to match, higher than simple streaming boxes but lower than most gaming consoles. And then, they crippled it. By requiring that all games support the terrible Apple TV remote (I like it fine for streaming but not much else) and other problems for developers, there just wasn’t an incentive to develop for it. It was a fantastic streaming box, well made and with an intuitive interface, but for most people streaming alone wasn’t worth the price and it was overpowered as well. It would be like hooking an iPhone X up to speakers and using it exclusively to play music. It works well for that, but it’s a waste. Without the volume of sales and the with the strong problems developing for the Siri Remote, developers just didn’t get on board with the exception of streaming apps. So once again the Apple TV was crippled. While they later reversed the requirement for games to support the Siri remote, that, along with their feud with Amazon (which was more Amazon cutting both Apple and Google out than vice versa), it was just a little too late.

I believe the biggest problem was that the Apple TV was never a priority until 2015. At that point, Apple was counting on bundling their TV streaming service with it and when those deals didn’t get made, they were left without a compelling reason to convince consumers to buy their hardware. Rather than adjust accordingly by either stripping it down and selling it as a simple streaming box, they just released it as it was, hoping the software and services would follow. That’s where I see them now, treading water and waiting for the deals or their own streaming service to gain traction.

So a lack of priority in the product line has been keeping Apple from making vital developments toward their strategic goals for the platform and missing components in the current model have left it without a real incentive for consumers to buy.

I own two Apple TVs and I like them a lot. I find their intuitive interfaces far superior the the competition and the Siri remote doesn’t bother me much (the voice transcription is great too). I also use a ChromeCast and a Roku and their interfaces drive me crazy. Still, I end up having an expensive Netflix and Plex streaming box hooked up to my TV and if I hadn’t got them discounted, a ChromeCast or Roku would have been fine for those purposes. I hope Apple does something great with the Apple TV, but for now it just screams missed opportunity.

To underscore my above point, I checked the top most downloaded apps in the Apple TV App Store. Of the Top 20 most downloaded apps, 18 of them were video streaming apps, one is a music streaming app (Pandora), and one is an internet speed test.

I will add that in spite of the problems and missed potential, the Apple TV is not a failed product. While it doesn’t hold a candle to other Apple products, as another piece of the Apple ecosystem that helps keep people buying Apple products, it occupies an important niche. Also, they sell enough of them to make the product worthwhile.

By Michael Vogel, Technology enthusiast since 1989. Originally published on Quora.
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